Its about Human Rights, Rowan

I’ve refrained from commenting much on the Lambeth Conference as there has not been anything official to react to and media reports do not give a good flavour of what is essentially a closed event.

However, now we have a published address from Rowan Williams.

At first sight, it seems reasonable enough. Indeed, he is making an honest attempt to hear and articulate the feelings and emotions of two hypothetical voices on either “side” of the debate.

The fact is, it is the conception of the Communion as having these two sides that is the real problem.

I don’t actually think that the attempt to sum up the “liberal” side comes anywhere near to my position at all.

The things is, its all about human rights, Rowan. This is not just about the rights of gay and lesbian people in the US, it is about all of us. It is about the rights of people in all parts of the world to self expression, to practise their religion, to live freely with dignity before God. It is about the whole people of God, (you know, the laos, you must have heard of it, you’ve read a bit of theology) being able to speak in decision making in the church. It is about women and men being treated as equal human beings. It is about the western church standing up for persecuted brothers and sisters wherever they are. It is about having the confidence that Muslim and Anglican can live together in the same street and not attack one another.

Sometimes, that means standing up to bishops, such as condemning the inflamatory remarks made by Akinola connected with inter-religious rioting in Nigeria. We’ve not yet heard any condemation from the Lambeth Conference of the circumstances which caused the UK Government to offer policial assylum to a gay Anglican this week because of the violence and persecution he could expect from his home church. That shames the whole church.

It is only when a human rights agenda gets woven into all of this that there will be dignity for all those affected.

We need human rights missionaries. We need to interfere in other jurisdictions until all God’s people are free and safe in their societies and in their churches. We need to set those high, inclusive moral standards amongst all Anglican peoples. That Covenant you are suggesting is not a patch on that vision. It is a step in another direction altogether.

Any covenant which allows anything less than treating all the baptised as equally enriched and empowered by the potential of God’s grace will result in non-juring Episcopalians again in Scotland. That would be communion breaking, not communion making. You might have some problems with it even closer to home than Scotland too.

What is proposed is not a solution. What is proposed is the problem.


  1. “because we believe there is an Anglican identity”

    Well of course he does – I have a copy of Anglican Identities by one Rowan Williams on my shelf – and what little I understood was a turgid read, too 😉

    “it seems obvious that a body which commands real confidence and whose authority is recognised could help us greatly”

    Yep, that’s where he loses the plot, though. It is non-uniformity and distributed diversity that distinctly define the Anglican Communion. Now, he does expand on that saying “a covenant is an expression of mutual generosity” etc, but I think that reads more like him living in a dream-world than the proposed covenant with its part-disciplinary aim.

    As for human rights… personally I find it increasingly scary that justice needs explaining to people. Do humans no longer understand the Golden Rule?

    We need to interfere in other jurisdictions

    Now this I’m not sure about. I hope & expect you’re not condoning cross-Province activity in some mirror-of-CANA kind of way; that deserves outright condemnation IMO. Of course if you mean rather larger scale – looking and breaking out of Anglicanism and using our clout to be a global voice for good then of course I’m right with you.

  2. Well said, Kelvin. Well said.

  3. Have read both Kelvin’s reponse and the Archbishop’s statement and agree wholeheartedly with Kelvin.It is all about human rights treating everyone with respect dignity and as equals.I feel the Archbishop has missed an opportunity to speak up.By trying for a compromise he is lending each side of the argument a sort of legitamacy.He could have spoken about the things that Kelvin has because I am sure he believes in these too.
    I recently met in the street a good man,a man of God who spoke to me a woman and a sinner .He was kind and polite.Later it really struck me probably for the first time how powerful, challenging and shocking Jesus’ behaviour was.Here he was a man,teacher-rabbi talking not only to women but women sinners,outcasts,the sick and male sinners.Not only did he speak to them,he spent time with them and treated them with compassion ,tolerance and respect.Many of these people were denied entrance to the Temple to worship(sound familiar?).Jesus did not seek power or status-no wonder he frightened and worried the Pharisees.No wonder one of the reasons Judas had to come and identify Jesus in the garden-He did not wear any ornate clothing,lived simply and looked just like the rest of his disciples
    The Archbishop could have talked about as Kelvin said on Sunday about our “best bits” and concentrate on the true message of Christianity.He has a difficult job I know and we should all be praying for him I don’t want to denigrate him in any way
    I hope the argument does not continue down the legalistic route.It seems to me there are still the worst type of Pharisees about.There are many good leaders in the Church but perhaps some should ask why they seek holy office is it for His Glory or their own

  4. Eamonn says

    ++Rowan would do well to ponder Rabbi Sachs’ address, which, among other things, makes it clear that the concept of covenant in the Hebrew Bible is predominantly that of a relationship of grace, rather than a restrictive legalistic instrument.

  5. You know, you might be playing into the hands of those who say it’s all an American Imperialist Plot.

    See how well the classic American words work here:
    ‘We the people, in order to from a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of libetrty to ourselves and our posterity.’

    Now, I know that is too isolationsist and inward looking, but most American’s know that last last thought as it is expressed in the Pledge of Allegiance:
    ‘with liberty and justice for all’, which is closer to what you’re saying

    Do you still have that flag I gave you one Independence Day? You may need it.

  6. Robin says

    I don’t see the need for all +Rowan’s verbiage. To me, it couldn’t be more straightforward. It’s a simple justice issue. There’s a right side and a wrong side. End of.

    And as for those who seem to believe that gay relationships are uniquely wicked and a communion-breaking issue whereas pretty well anything else that human beings can do to one another is acceptable, Matthew 23.24 suggests itself.

  7. Elizabeth says

    Hmm. Either I just imagined that I posted a comment, or it got eaten by cyberspace, or it was not deemed appropriate in terms of commenting guidelines. Anyway, I shall be fearless and bold and ask my question again. Please, can someone, anyone, tell me what a non-juring Episcopalian is? I ask in a spirit of humble inquiry!

  8. Tim – simple question – are Anglican borders more important to you than the human rights of those within them?

    As it happens, I am not advocating the consecration of rogue wandering bishops. However, I do also think that the internet and the Flying Bishop system of the C of E have put an end to any serious expectation of geographical terratorial integrity.

    Kimberly – I stand not as one who is against America. Indeed, the whole idea facscinates me. As you know.

    Elizabeth – a non-juror is someone who refuses to swear an oath. The last time this was important to Scottish Episcopalians was over the question of whether clergy were prepared to swear an oath of allegiance to William and Mary. A great many Episcopalians were not and suffered rather for it.

    There is a snippet in the history on the website.

  9. Jonathan Ensor says

    I am not quite sure where all this is heading.

    The Early Church, according to Elaine Pagels, in “Adam and Eve and the Serpent”, substantially believed that the Sin of Adam and Eve consisted of sexual intercourse and that if this act hadn’t been perpetrated by our father and mother there would have been an alternative means of procreation: hence I suppose the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth.

    As a so far, self contained, perhaps Christian, I think we need to examine both the need for sex and the origin of guilt.

    Muslims also believe in the Virgin Birth, but otherwise seem to be unconcerned with the possible guilty consequences of so-called legitimate sexual acts.

    Jews do not believe in the Virgin Birth but do not believe that all have fallen in Adam and Eve, but that there is innocence at birth at least.

    Can we not explore consequences of acts in history and in the present in the light of the Doctrine of the Virgin as we worship?! in the congregation of St Mary the Virgin?

    Can we not also plan for the future as enfranchised members of the Human Race and in the light of the fact that in my Crudens concordance, there is no reference given for the word future in the whole of the Bible.

    Yours sincerely,

    Jonathan Philip Ensor BSc(Hons).,MRPharmS

  10. are Anglican borders more important to you than the human rights of those within them?

    Good question, to which I don’t have an easy answer (I almost feel like +RW must do, treading some middle-or-centrist ground over it). Perhaps they should be orthogonal and some other means of discussion and awareness between provinces set up? I’m tempted to suggest phpBB-for-primates – after all it would leave everyone sitting where they are but with appropriate walls of territorialism broken down for the sake of communication. Is there no such thing already?

  11. Tim – it sounds to me that the middle ground that you describe is a place where it is just too painful to make your mind up.

    I find myself wondering whether that is the place that Bishop David is describing here. And, moreover, whether the religion of that middle ground is Satre’s mauvaise foi.

    You might not like to be forced to choose, but could you ever put Anglican borders before the human rights of those within them. Once the question is posed….

  12. Yes, I saw +David’s article on the matter.

    On a spectrum from “human rights” to “anglican infrastructure” I have a position and direction all my own, involving variously:
    a) is this a mu question?
    b) human rights for all sans frontiers is a leading goal transcending anglicanism
    c) I do actually understand “respect for tradition” and “preserving identity” in this context (not in the “insist on our old interpretation of Scripture” way though)
    d) look outside the spectrum: is fragmentary communication part of the problem?
    e) supersize the idea: there’s less wrong with a Communion in which *all* provinces roam wild & free than one in which only *some* do given that the rule is *none* should at present.
    f) can we keep the carbon footprint down in the process?

    Hence: how do bishops actually communicate except at 10-year intervals down the road?

    Satre looks complicated.

  13. Nice idea Tim, but I’m not quite convinced this is a mu question.

    I agree that there’s less wrong with a Communion in which *all* provinces roam wild & free than one in which only *some* do given that the rule is *none* should at present.

    It is worth noting that a sense of parochial territorial identity is something which the Scottish Episcopal Church has largely left behind and which others would regard as the bedrock of Anglicanism.

  14. Robin says

    > It is worth noting that a sense of parochial territorial identity is something which the Scottish Episcopal Church has largely left behind <

    Well, we did have nearly three centuries of parallel jurisdictions here – from the Qualified Chapels right up to St Silas, Glasgow, in our own time. It probably saved a lot of hassle within the church and may well have been the lesser of two evils. Rather than wasting time and energy in doctrinal and ritual in-fighting, we were able to get on, in our parallel ways, with praying, worshipping and spreading the Gospel.

  15. At first sight, it seems reasonable enough. Indeed, he is making an honest attempt to hear and articulate the feelings and emotions of two hypothetical voices on either “side” of the debate.

    Kelvin, I suppose “reasonable” is in the eye of the beholder. I thought the address was dreadful from the beginning. My thought that won’t go away is, “Why didn’t the archbishop have Bishop Robinson in to play himself in the play-acting bit?” That would have been a good deal more authentic, don’t you think?

    I keep trying to cut the ABC slack, but he makes it difficult. He truly seems not to get the human rights part. On the other hand, I like your bishop’s words quite a lot.

  16. Martin Ritchie says

    This might seem like pointless nit-picking in the context of this discussion, but just wanted to mention to Robin that the issue of parallel jurisdictions and the Qualified Chapels isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Worth consulting Ted Luscombe’s “Steps to Freedom” on this. The Qualified Chapels “qualified” to meet and worship freely by agreeing to pray for the Hanoverians, to use the English BCP and to have clergy of English or Irish ordination (because all the Scots bishops were non-jurors, all those ordained by them were taken to be non-jurors too, and therefore politically suspect). However, they had no formal episcopal oversight from Scotland, England or Ireland. In fact, they’ve been described as”liturgical congregtionalists.”

    Also, there’s a bit of an easy conflation of the Qualified chapels with the later “English Episcopal” chapels, which arose in the 19th century in connection with a dispute over non-liturgical worship. This is where St Silas comes in, I think!

    Gavin White’s take on all this is very interesting:

  17. Hmm, I wish St.Silas had made its rogue status more clear to schmucks like me *before* we chose to be regulars there! The sign just said “Anglican” so one could hardly be expected to know it had “special” status. Although st.silas *does* have a “purple and shiny” prayer request box, which is perhaps progress of sorts ;-).

  18. Rosemary says

    It is also about the role of reason in the church, isn’t it? Or rather about the role of empirical investigation. It is clear to most people that homosexual relationships enhance and liberate the lives of those called to them. (This is not true of all sexual desires, and as kelvin pointed out earlier is what makes the difference between sexual infidelities and homosexuality.) We therefore believe that they fall within the desire of God that his children should have life in all its fullness. They provide the quality of life growing experience, not of necessity easy experience, but challenging and and developing, that we expect Christian marriage to provide.

    Many of those who oppose homosexual unions do so on the grounds that ‘it is forbidden’ and are opposed to letting the light of experience into Scripture.

    To me this is a huge huge rift, and I would in no way be comfortable with a situation which turned Scripture into this kind of magic entity.

    I’m perfectly happy with the transforming super evidential magic of the Eucharist, but a reductive counter evidential magic, no.

  19. I agree entirely with you post: the problem is the problem, not a solution.

    Much too boud up in authoritarian ideas. The 1950ies died many years ago.

    Maybe Dr Rowan’s proposed solution could have worked thosedays, but nobody proposed it!

  20. Robin says

    Martin, I agree that it’s very far from straightforward! I know Ted Luscombe’s and Gavin White’s work well, and I also can thoroughly recommend Patricia Meldrum’s ‘Conscience and Compromise – Forgotten Evangelicals of Nineteenth-century Scotland’, which I reviewed favourably in ‘The Edge’, the Edinburgh diocesan magazine. She writes as an insider, being a member of St Thomas’s, Corstorphine.

    My point is that I still think that parallel jurisdictions – or even liturgical congregationalism – can be the lesser of two evils. Furthermore, sometimes I wonder what “being in Communion” really means. For instance, at Lambeth there are a good number of bishops who are not in communion with some of the other bishops there – I mean, of course, women bishops and those who don’t recognise them. I think it’s healthier that they are there together, co-operating insofar as they can, rather than staying away and hurling anathemata at each other. Similarly, the SEC is not “in Communion” with the Church of Scotland, and yet Episcopalians and Presbyterians frequently receive Communion in each other’s churches, often on an official basis through various kinds of ecumenical partnerships.

    It seems to me far better to work together beyond our differences, rather than allowing the differences to become an insuperable barrier.

  21. Martin Ritchie says

    Robin, thanks for the steer – I’ve got Patricia Meldrum’s book, but have only dipped into bits of it. Must read further! I think the point I was trying to make was that episcopal oversight from outside Scotland would be an innovation rather than a revival of a previous system.

    Completely agree with your last sentence! I suppose the question is how to hold things together in a creative tension?

    It’s an interesting point you make – if I’m picking you up correctly – that there can be a meeting place in the eucharist. Sad that at the moment in the Anglican communion this is the place of rejection. Ironic that presbyterians and episcopalians in Scotland can find this meeting place when Anglicans worldwide can’t!

  22. Robin says

    Martin, thanks for your comments. You’re right, I think, that there was no *formal* episcopal oversight from outside Scotland, and that such formal oversight would be an innovation – although I have to confess that in today’s circumstances it’s an innovation I’d be inclined to view sympathetically.

    On the eucharist, things have changed astonishingly since I was a lad. The analogy that used to be used was, “You don’t have sex before marriage.” This analogy seems to have lost its force in today’s world!!! Instead, the invitation customarily given nowadays is to all people baptised in the name of the Trinity, and even the absence of baptism is not an impediment in some Anglican churches I know of.

    I’ve already mentioned how common intercommunion now is with e.g. Presbyterians. If the Anglican Communion split in two along GAFCON lines and I happened to be in Nigeria or Uganda, I wouldn’t hesitate to present myself at the altar – and if Archbishops Akinola and Orombi, after such a split, presented themselves for Communion at the altar of my own liberal church in Edinburgh, or offered to celebrate there, I’d be amazed, as well as disappointed, if this caused a problem.

    As regards RCs and the Orthodox and Oriental Churches, I have an advantage in that as a young server I often served, or attended, two Masses in the days when to communicate once only in a day was the rule. I was therefore used to feeling that I had participated fully in the Mass even if I hadn’t communicated, and so when I attend an RC Mass and don’t communicate I don’t in any way feel left out, as I know those do who have never been used to non-communicating attendance within our own church.

    I like the idea that the eucharist is the true meeting place – of those present, as well as between Earth and Heaven. If the Anglican Communion split tomorrow, there would be a lot of huffing and puffing from prelates and synods and committees; but for ordinary worshippers finding themselves in different (and, on paper, “not in Communion”) provinces, I don’t expect there would be the slightest bit of difference!


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